Tutorial: Block Print Design with Derrick Castle

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Pushing Up Daisies: A Tutorial by Nashville based graphic designer, WMC Fest 4 artist and Ink Wars participant Derrick Castle

I wanted to come up with a block print design for the old American idiom “Pushing up Daisies”. I’ve actually been surprised by the number of people that haven’t heard of this old saying. Maybe it’s more of a southern thing. It means dead and buried. The elders used to claim that concentrated patches of daisies would grow over the graves of the deceased. I think it just sounds cool.

For my block prints, I like to use linoleum. Linoleum is a lot easier to work with than wood. They say that the lifespan of linoleum is up to 10 years before the linoleum itself starts to degrade. I haven’t gotten to that point but my blocks are still going strong.

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My first step in the process of creating a design is to sketch out a simple idea. I like to keep the composition simple because I know that carving out all the negative space and detailed illustrations for block printing can be a recipe for pain and frustration. But, by all means, push yourself.

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Another thing to keep in mind when working in a medium like block printing, this is a form of relief printing so what ever you are printing, it will be the mirror image of your design. So, it is really important, especially with typography, that you transfer the reverse of your image to the block for carving.

I typically sketch my design on tracing paper and flip it over with a sheet of carbon paper underneath. I trace and transfer the design to the block. From there, I like to ink the design onto the block so I do not get lost in the pencil lines. For this particular design, I want to print on black stock so I inked out all the negative space in which I would be carving.

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Once I have laid down my pen and ink, I get to carving. Now it is time to set it to auto pilot because you are going to be here for a while. During this process, I tend to meditate and pontificate the meaning of raisins and other unexplained phenomenon. You do want to be very patient and deliberate during this process to avoid slips of the carving tools. (If I was to give any tips at this stage; before carving, set your linoleum block under a hot lamp for a little while before carving, this will soften the linoleum making it easier to carve.)

daisies-block-carved

So now you are done carving and up until this point, because you have been working in reverse, you do not know how your prints are going to turn out. I’m always incredibly anxious to get to the printing stage because that is the moment where you find out if you have succeeded in bringing your vision to life. When printing, make sure you do use block printing ink. I use water based speedball inks, which work well for what I need. Block printing inks have a nice tacky consistency once you roll it out onto your rolling board.

For me, the printing process was actually the most difficult process to get the hang of. I spent a lot of time trying different methods of applying ink and pressing the blocks. The key to a successful print is to achieve the right texture of ink on your block. When applying the ink, it should sound a lot like Velcro. Once you have the right consistency, place your stock on top of the block and apply pressure. I work completely manual with nothing but elbow grease so, I use a rigid acrylic roller to apply even pressure to the inked block. I do not like using a baren which a lot of people recommend, it just didn’t work for me personally. After that first pressing, stand back and enjoy the fruits of your labor, over and over again. Reproducible art at its finest.

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About the Author:

Derrick Castle is a Nashville based graphic designer and illustrator, freelancing for many major merchandising groups, as well as clothing labels. He is the creator of Straw Castle.

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